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Meet Amy Lenahan from Design i Interiors, Chicago

I first heard about the talented Interior Stylist Amy Lenahan via Janel at Apartment Therapy Chicago (thanks Janel!) and after viewing Amy’s online portfolio, I knew that I had to meet her and introduce her work to decor8 readers. In this interview, Amy tells us how she got started in design, her pricing, common design mistakes, and offers some great design tips. I know the interview is a little long, but I went light on the posts today so you could spend time reading this – I think it contains a lot of good things that many of you will be interested in. So, are you ready to meet her?

Amy Lenahan

decor8: Hi Amy! I’m so happy that you’re here to talk about design today. Can you please tell us about design i and how your business came about?

amy: Thanks, Holly. I?m happy to be here talking to you, too! My Chicago-based business is called design i and offers what I call a ?fresh, accessible and affordable approach to interior design.? I?ve been doing this officially for about a year now. My first job was a high school Spanish teacher. Upon moving to Chicago in 2000, I took a job in sales and marketing with a major pharmaceutical company. I then moved into a role at a great nonprofit, but quickly realized that quenching my thirst for all things creative in my available free time wasn?t going to be enough. At this point, I had already been solicited by friends to fix up their places, which made me think: what if I quit my job and made THIS my business?

For me, that business was going to be as much about satisfying my need for a creative outlet as it was going to address the needs of what I saw as an underserved group. I saw two problems with the existing model of interior design: 1) lack of transparency in pricing and 2) lack of flexibility in where designers shop. As it stands, most designers shop for their clients at trade-only showrooms and earn their money through commission on what they buy. There are definitely those who don?t use this model, but by and large, this is the way it works. In my preliminary market research and in discussions with friends, I discovered this was what scared people about using the services of a designer. They worried they might be convinced to buy something they didn?t need so the designer would make more on commission or that their project would snowball into something they couldn?t afford.

I wanted to approach this from a different angle and to offer these people an alternative. What if I could create straightforward design packages with a reasonable flat fee so that my clients would know exactly what my services would cost them? I wanted them to have a concrete number from the start. Then I thought, what about all of those people who don?t want to shop solely at trade-only shops? It seemed like a conflict of interest to me: if I get you a more expensive sofa, I make more money. That would make me suspicious, and knew it wasn?t how I wanted to be perceived by my clients. Plus, I knew there was so much great design out there that it would be restricting to be confined to those showrooms.

So, I did just that. I developed a model that is very streamlined and straightforward: you have three options ? a consultation, a ?spruce up? or a full-blown makeover. I put prices right on the site so potential clients know what they need to budget for their plan. I wanted to be as upfront as possible so there weren?t looming concerns. When you hire me and we figure out what your budget is for the project and I shop for you where it makes sense for you, not what?s advantageous for me.

I think that?s why design i has really caught on – which makes me delighted! I like to describe my clients as savvy ? they are savvy enough to know that they can get a great sofa for $1500 (and not $7500) and they get just as much of a kick as I do in mixing an IKEA table with a Noguchi lamp and family antiques to create a wonderful and unique look. That?s why I am thrilled to be interviewed by you today! I really wish there were more options out there for people who are looking for this kind of help.

Client Living Room – Before

After

decor8: Great, thanks for all those juicy details. We have the exact same business model, as I rarely shop in trade only showrooms and give clients the same three pricing/design options as you do. I find it’s easier for clients, I’m more approachable, and people enjoy the process a lot more. I notice that you title yourself an Interior Stylist, can you tell readers what the difference is between styling and interior design?

amy: Interior design is often interchangeable with interior architecture. Someone formally trained as an interior designer would not only be able to decorate, but would be able to draft plans to sculpt and manipulate any nonstructural part of a building?s interior. A stylist, or decorator, focuses on the decorative elements such as furnishings, fabrics and finishes. The ?fun? stuff, as I like to think!

decor8: Thanks for that, well put. When did you know that you wanted to be a stylist?

amy: It?s really been an evolution for me. I am an only child and as a result, I had an extremely active imagination and creative streak. I also had a penchant for organization. These tendencies led me to get into my bed at night and think up ways that I could rearrange my room, my parents? house and any homes we had visited. Occasionally, on weekends, I would get up before my parents and reorganize their kitchen. I changed the layout of my bedroom almost seasonally.

I also learned at an early age how to put together a well-styled look on a budget. In high school, I won ?best-dressed;? not because my family spent tons of money on my wardrobe, but because my mom was a killer bargain shopper. Over time, I developed an eye for quality and learned how to mix those pieces with lesser quality ones to come up with a great look.

Putting this all together into a business didn?t really click until about two years ago. My husband and I had recently bought our first place about a year before that and did a lot of cosmetic work on it. Many of my friends were amazed at the transformation and were shocked to find out how little we had spent in fixing it up. Some of them started to ask for my help to do the same in their places. It was a total ?V8? moment for me. You mean I could do THIS and actually make a living doing it?

Client Bathroom – Before

After

decor8: How would you characterize your personal style, including your preferred color scheme?

amy: My personal style is pretty tailored and classic with a punch of something fun. I?m a big fan of having some good basic pieces and mixing them with interesting accessories. I?m not much of a fad-follower and I don?t think I have a preferred color scheme. I like so many combinations that it would be hard to choose a favorite. I think I could definitively say, though, that red is my favorite accent color.

decor8: How would you describe your personal interior design style?

amy: I think it?s a lot like my personal style ? good, basic, clean-lined anchoring pieces mixed with fun interchangeable accessories to show some personality. I love when a space truly reflects its owner. It seems to be the clich?d response that every designer gives, but there?s a reason for that. In my mind, individuality is more beautiful than picture-perfect. I believe that I should walk into your home and get a sense of who you are. It bums me out when I go into the home of someone I think is really interesting or funny and their place looks cookie-cutter. I think too often we shoot for pretty or to ?wow? and in the process lose the personality.

decor8: Can you describe the initial design consultation with a client?

amy: My design consultation is the first of my three packages. Consultations are two hours long and run the gamut from paint color recommendations to what to do in every nook and cranny of a 2000+ sq. ft. condo! It really depends on what the client?s goals are and how quickly they can digest the information. Consultations are so much fun, but are probably the most challenging of the packages from my perspective. Because of the time constraints, I do a good amount of prep work so that I come to the meeting ready to hit the ground running. Before the consult, I send my clients a detailed questionnaire that asks them a ton of questions to try to uncover everything from how they live in the space to how it makes them feel, how they want it to feel, what they do in their leisure time, etc. Then, after the on-site meeting, I send a detailed summary of what we discussed and any applicable information like suggestions on where to shop for the items, who I recommend to perform any additional services needed, etc. It?s a whirlwind!

decor8: On your second visit, do you use design boards or is there another method that you find helpful to convey the end result to the client?

amy: My second and third packages are multi-stage, so there are several meetings for those. The first meeting is similar to that of the consultation except that I am developing a definitive plan for the client. I do use design boards for the follow-up meetings and use them in conjunction with a walk through of the space to point out what will be used where. I find that a lot of people aren?t great visualizers (which is likely why they are seeking help in the first place), so it is key to do anything possible to show them what the space will look like once finished.

decor8: Most people are scared when it comes to using their favorite colors. Say they love green, but don’t know if they should buy green furniture, just add green pillows, a green rug, or paint the walls green. How can we best incorporate our favorite color into the home?

amy: I think it?s hard to say exactly just where that favorite color should appear. I think the answer to uncover is whether that favorite color is someone?s ?favorite color of the moment? or has been his or her favorite color for some time. If it is a current favorite, it will make more sense to use that color on pieces that can be changed down the road ? pillow covers, rugs, wall colors (just as you mentioned). If it?s a really strong color, I wouldn?t consider using it on big anchoring pieces unless you know you will be happy with it for some time ? or ? you have the budget to change it if you tire of it.

decor8: If this isn’t too forward, what are your rates? Do you ever travel outside of Chicago for clients?

amy: design i is all about being upfront with rates, so I?m happy to share! The two-hour consultation I described is $300. The next step up is to finish out a room building upon what you already have. This is $650/room. The final package is a full room makeover where we start from scratch. This is $950/room. As for travel, one client flew me to D.C. to do a project which turned out great. I?m not sure I?d want to do a remote job again, though. The couple was wonderful (they are friends which made it much easier) and they were excellent at implementing my suggestions. This was important because after the initial weekend, we had to do everything via email. It?s really hard to coach people through a project when you are looking at everything through 2D photographs.

decor8: Yes, and not only that, but you don’t have access to stores in their area like you do there in Chicago. I’m sure you know most of the store owners and they’re quick to accomodate you. You lose a lot of that when you’re consulting purely online. Although, I do take online consults and find that because I’m so hooked into the online shopping community, that I can easily work with online vendors just as well as I can with brick and mortar stores.

Okay, so back to the consult. Let’s say you’ve visited the client twice and explained to them your plan of action. Of course, they’ll want to know where you found the items, how much they will cost, who will order/deliver/install them, etc. Some clients are comfortable taking the resource sheet from me and going from there due to budget constraits. Others are willing to spend the extra money so I can help them from start to finish. For your clients that require additional assistance, what’s the next step?

amy: When I am satisfied with the final design plan, I write a very detailed report of exactly what we are doing in the space and list each item needed, where to buy it and how much it will cost. You can opt to buy these things yourself, or, for an additional charge, I act as your project manager. If I?m the project manager, I coordinate any necessary service providers and purchase and arrange these things for you. I find that it is a 50/50 split between customers who want to execute the plan themselves and those who want me to do it. It seems to come down to how pressed for time they are. My clients really like having this option; it?s another way that they feel in charge of the project and what they spend.

decor8: What is the first thing you notice upon entering a space?

amy: The first thing I notice is the overall feeling I get in the space. I also read what it says about the owners and who they are, or at least who they?d like to be. I always feel honored to be welcomed into someone?s home. It?s such a treat to get a glimpse of a very personal part of someone?s life and even more so when you are asked to improve that space.

decor8: What are the most common design mistakes you see when you enter a clients space?

amy: Hmmm.. the biggies: Bad overhead lighting (use dimmers or accent lights instead), Pictures that are hung too high (I tell my clients to study design magazines or catalogs until this becomes more second-nature), Issues with scale, and too much of one particular style period (mixing gives such richness and depth to a space).

decor8: I know you have your own business, but would you ever consider working for a firm or partnering with someone?

amy: Being my own boss is the absolute greatest feeling. I?ve been really lucky in that I?ve always had a lot of autonomy in my jobs. At this point, it would be really hard for me to switch and work for someone else, but you never know. As for growing design i, I?ve only ever considered partnering with one friend who worked with me in sales. He has incredible style and has designed his home in keeping with my philosophy and design i?s ideals. He?s also a complete riot, which may make it tough to get any work done.

decor8: I know you mentioned earlier that you don’t focus on trends, but I’m sure you feel the need to keep up to speed with what’s going on in the industry. How do you do that?

amy: I get so many shelter magazines that I swear I?ve gotten dirty looks from my postal carrier. I also attend a lot of in-town design events and seminars.

decor8: What would be your recommendation for “what to do first” in a design project?

amy: My first step would be to do an honest budget assessment. You can?t make any decisions until you know how much you are willing to spend. Then, I?d determine what kind of change you want to make. After that, I?d prioritize the list based on budget and figure out which items will give you the most bang for your buck. Then, and this requires discipline, I?d resist the urge to go out and buy it all at once. It isn?t as instantly gratifying as a grand shopping spree, but I think a look that is slowly acquired tends to have much more depth. Plus, you never know when you?ll be traveling and you find that perfect something…

decor8: What advice do you have for readers with a new apartment/home to decorate and perhaps a limited budget?

amy: Aside from Oprah and Bill Gates, I think we?re all on a limited budget. There is always something bigger and better that we could be buying, at ALL levels. That said, I think a paint change can give you huge impact for little money (especially if you can do the painting yourself). Changes in lighting can be incredibly dramatic. My husband and I swapped out each and every light fixture in our home. I also think well-placed window treatments give a polished look. I notice that a lot of people hang their drapes so they go over their windows rather than mounting the hardware outside the frame to give the illusion of a larger window. Finally, I?d have fun with accessories. This is where I think it?s hard to tell whether you?ve spent a lot or a little ? so find fun low-cost options.

decor8: For renters who want to add color to their space but are limited in making structural/cosmetic changes (paint, flooring, etc), how do you suggest they do that in an apartment with white walls and beige carpeting, for instance?

amy: That?s a great question and I think a situation that every renter has faced. I love to paint large artist?s canvases bold solid colors (or whatever color you want to introduce) and hang them to cover a large portion of the wall. You could do the same and cover them with fabric for more texture. For the floor, you can add an interesting area rug, although I have to say I?m not completely jazzed about the rug over the carpet idea. But, sometimes you have to work with what you have! As always, well-placed accessories (pillows, lamps, vases, etc.) can help add pizzazz.

decor8: How do promote your business?

amy: This is a completely word-of-mouth industry. All of my clients have come to me in this way ? they are either friends or friends of friends, etc. I think all small business owners start like this ? they tell all of their friends and then have them share the news with their contacts, etc. I feel really lucky to have such a wonderful network and people who are willing to share my information with their friends. The biggest compliment (and boost to my business) is when I gain a new client through a recommendation.

Getting editorial coverage is also excellent (thank you, decor8!). People are so much more trusting of someone?s opinion than they are of direct advertising (which I don?t do). When you are a one-woman show and don?t have an unlimited budget, you have to do a lot of your own PR. Thankfully, I have friends in the industry who have been very willing to share their expertise.

decor8: Where do you find inspiration? Other designers? Places? Magazines?

amy: I am inspired most by the way that everyday people find creative solutions to common problems. So, I really like to read articles about these kinds of people and how they do it. I think Domino is doing a great job in showcasing these types of stories. I also really like Better Homes and Gardens for this reason. I think BHG is a completely underrated magazine.

I also love to shop the local design shops in Chicago. They often carry multiple product lines, so they have less of a showroom feel. The shop owners are usually quite creative, so the stores are styled really well. It?s kind of like visiting someone?s really cool apartment and snagging their ideas!

Client Office – Before

After

decor8: Do you read design blogs, and as an Interior Stylist, do you find them helpful and if so, why?

amy: I do! I read yours as well as a few others since I find blogs extremely helpful for discovering new places or products that I can use for clients. I keep many binders full of web addresses, images, etc. so that when I have a client who wants a particular item, I know where to look. They definitely save me a lot of time scouting. I?ve started a blog on my own site that showcases local Chicago design stores where you can find great-looking affordable pieces. I also include basic design tips and misc. things that I think would be of interest to my clients. I want my clients (or anyone, for that matter) to be able to use the blog as a resource so that they can become better and more confident in decorating their own homes. It may sound crazy from a business perspective since I?m ?giving away? my knowledge, but I guess that?s the former teacher in me ? give your students the tools they need so they can succeed on their own.

decor8: Do you attend conferences? shows? Which ones?

amy: I am really selective about what conferences and shows I attend. A lot of them are great for networking, but light on content. The Merchandise Mart here in Chicago hosts the huge conferences which are a fantastic way to see a lot at one time. In all, I prefer one-night seminars with a great speaker. My favorite thus far was the Architecture & Design Society?s lecture with Barbara Barry. She was fantastic and I learned a LOT ? all in about an hour.

decor8: Who are some of your favorite designers?

amy: Speaking of Barbara Barry…definitely a favorite. She?s so incredibly elegant and so is all of her design. I also love hometown favorite Nate Berkus (how can you not?) Nate is doing a wonderful job helping to convince Americans to take the time to beautify their homes. I also really love Philippe Starck, Denyse Schmidt and Angela Adams. Jamie Drake?s use of color is so daring and confident. He definitely inspires me.

decor8: Any design books you call favorites?

amy: I really like Clodagh?s book: Total Design, as it is a unique, holistic approach to design. Philippe Starck?s books are great and remind me not to take myself too seriously. I love how his design adds a touch of whimsy to any project. The Herbert Ypma ?HIP? series is wonderful eye candy. If I could, I?d visit each of the places he showcases in his books.

decor8: I love the HIP books! Herbert Ypma has a few more set to release in October, HIP Hotels Paris, New York, and the third, London. Now for a twist, if money were no obstacle, where would live and why?

amy: I spend way more time thinking about this than I should. I love living in new places, so I?m always planning my next steps. If money were no obstacle, though, I think I?d spend half the year in Paris and the other half in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It would be the perfect mix of urban and rural. I like the extremes ? not a huge fan of the in-between.

decor8: Tell us the best way to spend a Saturday in Chicago..

amy: Chicago is such an incredible and often underrated city. In terms of great architecture, there really is no better place. My husband and I have always tried to live here like we are tourists, which I recommend doing wherever you live. So, if you are visiting and on a tour, we?re probably the ones raising our hands when they ask: anyone from Chicago?

If you were here for just one weekend, I?d be sure to check out Millennium Park, and would take a tour so you can appreciate the architecture and the well-thought out design of the park. If you?re lucky, Hubbard Street Dance will be performing and you can catch them at the Harris Theater. If HSD is gone, I?d catch a play at Steppenwolf, and would make a reservation at Alinea (start saving your pennies). Talk about great design, it?s a 24-course meal where each course is photo-worthy. Theater on the Lake (summer only) followed by dinner at the North Pond Cafe (best nonskyscraper view of the city) would be another wonderful option. The rest of the time, I?d take as many architecture tours as I could and would try to schedule a sail on Lake Michigan.

decor8: And finally, since Elle Decor does it, I’ll ask you, what are ten things that you can’t live without?

amy: In no particular order, 1. My oasis of a king-sized bed. 2. Air conditioning. I am probably one of few people in Chicago who doesn?t mind the cold weather. It?s the hot stuff that gets to me! 3. Whoopie pies. There?s this bakery in Chicago that has ridiculously good icky-sticky old-fashioned sweets. The whoopie pie must weigh three pounds. I went on the Atkins diet about two years ago in a pathetic attempt to lose a few pounds before a trip to the beach. The day before I started the diet, I got one of these whoopie pies and ate THE WHOLE THING in my car so no one would see. Secret?s out. 4. Naps. 5. The moment when I come home from being out and I open my door and my dog goes crazy with joy and excitement. It is the absolute greatest feeling to be loved like that! 6. The moment when my husband comes home from work every day and I go crazy with joy and excitement! It is the absolute greatest feeling to love like that. 7. My Honda Element. It?s a great mix of funky and practical. 8. Fall.
9. Unlimited access to great books. 10. The music of Martin Sexton.

Thank you so much for spending time with us today Amy – great answers, very insightful and thorough. Nice to meet you!

(images from design i)

Posted in designers, interviews, shopping, travel on August 08, 2006

Meet Pamela Barsky

Do you know Pamela Barsky? A designer of gift items that range from quirky fun signs (“my house is mid century messy”) to funny luggage tags, and now a new line of toys for pups, Pamela is a creative designer and savvy business woman who shoots straight from the hip. If you’ve always wanted to jump into the mind of a successful gift and accessories designer, here’s your chance. Meet Pamela Barsky.

decor8: Hi Pamela. So glad you stopped by! I read your online bio, it seems you’ve accomplished and overcome quite a lot to get to where you are today as a product designer/manufacturer/author. Tell us, who is Pamela Barsky?

pamela: In my mind, I’m a tall, leggy blond with a large trust fund, but in reality I’m a 46 year old designer/manufacturer with brown hair who lives with my husband and my dog in Los Angeles. I’ve been skiing my whole life and wish there’d been competitive bump skiing when I was a kid because, well, because I was good at it and it would have been fun to win a medal or two along the way. I went to school in Colorado, spent a decade writing advertising before I opened the store which spawned my line when I was 29. I love modern architecture (you can see my house in the May ’06 issue of Dwell magazine) and am attempting to learn French. Antwerp is my favorite European city.

decor8: I saw your home in that issue, very impressive digs. Since you’re based in LA and went to college in Colorado, where did you grow up?

pamela: I am based in Los Angeles, although after being here twenty years, I feel like a native… I’m actually a midwestern gal; I grew up in suburban Detroit.

decor8: What gave you the idea to start your business?

pamela: I always wanted to own my own shop. Originally, it was to be called “the pig mug shop” after the collection of pig coffee cups I’d been carrying around with me since my teens. My store got destroyed in the ’94 earthquake. I started making things to fill my empty shelves.

decor8: Do you think where you grew up influenced your design style, and if so, how?

pamela: You know, ten years ago, I’d have had a different answer, but, yes. I spent a lot of time as an art “groupie” hanging out at Cranbrook, an amazing graduate art school in Bloomfield Hills Michigan. I went to a very progressive open elementary school with a student body of incredibly smart kids from all walks of life. There was little direction, just encouragement to explore. I think that had a huge influence on me. Probably more important, Detroit is very gray, both summer and winter, and kind of conservative, so I had to turn inward for colors and ideas and excitement. Probably if I’d grown up in Los Angeles or New`York where so much was happening, I’d have been a lot more of a follower.

decor8: Makes sense. Lots of great design comes from parts of the world with gray skies and somewhat melancholy surroundings. Something about the lack of color can often inspire creative types to dig harder to create it for themselves. Do you have a design education/background, or did you learn by simply jumping in and doing?

pamela: As far back as I can remember, I’ve been taking art classes; one of my earliest childhood memories is sculpting an ear out of clay in a ceramics studio my mother insisted I go to. During junior high you could find me at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Association where I studied everything from yarn dying to metalsmithing. I never could draw, so didn’t realize art school was a possibility. Instead, I went to Colorado, skied my brains out and majored in Journalism. I’m not sure in what order.

decor8: Describe a typical work day…

pamela: Before I got struck with chronic vertigo, work days were twenty hour marathons of box packing, customer apeasing, and employee managing. Now, I’ve hired a fulfillment house, jobbed out most of my manufacturing, so days are a bit more leisurely. I get up around 7, eat breakfast, then check emails while watching Good Morning America. I invoice new orders, email them to the fulfillment house, then spend the rest of my day running errands, talking to customers on the phone, working on public relations, stamping mailers, working on new designs, then yoga, then, lights out.

decor8: Where do you find inspiration?

pamela: Everywhere. Flea markets. On the back of a cereal box. In a vintage book. On tv. On the web. Ideas are everywhere and ripe for the picking.

decor8: You must be inspired by a few designers too…

pamela: Oh yes, I like Denyse Schmidt’s quilts a lot. I love the way Jack and Lulu’s line is so polished. I could eat Miu Miu’s entire line for lunch, I just wish it was made better. Lately, I’ve been lookin to mid-century Swedish ceramics for inspiration, although clearly, so has Jonathon Adler, so enough about that. I like vintage Evelyn Ackerman weavings. And I’m crazy about Marshall Studios’ lamps. I guess all that stuff swishes around in my brain and gets pooped out as my style.

decor8: Before you send your designs off to the workshop, do you test them to ensure that they’ll be a success and if so, how does that work?

pamela: After 10 years in advertising, where they test everything to death, I find myself allergic to the process. I trust my gut. If I like it, I make it.

decor8: (smiling) Good one. I noticed that you create a little bit of everything, all over the board… From hats to piggy banks. Have you ever been told that your line needs to have more focus, and if so, how did you respond to that?

pamela: Years ago, when looking for a job in advertising, an incredibly rude headhunter sat me down and told me she’d seen art directors write better headlines than mine and urged me to give up the hunt. I spent many years thinking she was right, then, one day, I realized, she’d probably had a fight with her husband that morning, or the rent was due and she had no cash. Most advise is colored by the person who gives it. I say do what makes you happy and the rest
will follow.

decor8: What makes your product line stand out above the rest?

pamela: I haven’t sold out. I love everything I make. I don’t knock off other’s design ideas. I’m not afraid to take a risk. And I’m not afraid to do something noone else has done.

decor8: Where is most of your line manufactured?

pamela: Ana, my last full time employee makes all of my journals in her spare bedroom. The piggy banks are made in Austin. Except for the dog toys, which are made in China, the rest is pieced together here in Los Angeles.

decor8: What is the hardest part about having your own company?

pamela: I worry about money constantly.

decor8: The best?

pamela: Honestly, not having to kiss anyone’s ass.


decor8: You just introduced dog toys to your line. Can you tell us about them and what inspired those creations?

pamela: Well, I’ve done very well with my dog charms and wanted to expand my offerings in that area. Most dog toys are too cutesy, no one is doing any which are clean and modern and sophisticated and funny. Beyond that, no great marketing plan, just a whim.

decor8: Do you participate in gift shows? If so, which ones?

pamela: I do New York and Atlanta. I’ve tried others, but there just doesn’t seem to be a big enough audience for things not adorned with bunnies and bears at shows like, say, Chicago. L.A. used to be good, but the earthquake and the riots killed it.

decor8: Where can you items be purchased?

pamela: I sell all over the world. You’ll see my things at the Victoria and Albert museum shop in London, most modern museum shops in the USA, nearly every city’s “cool” shop, and of course, my website.


decor8: You’ve also written a how-to business guide…“How to Start a Creative Manufacturing Business”. Most business owners wouldn’t be as open to confessing their secrets for a mere $22. What motivated you to write it and how do you think it ranks up against similiar titles on the market?

pamela: Honestly, I got tired of people asking how to start a business like mine and since I was a writer in a past life, a book emerged. I think the original working title was, “now you won’t have to ask me how to start a business like mine.” I’m not a big reader of how-to books, I’m more of a jump in and figure things out kind of gal, so, and I don’t mean this to sound snotty, I haven’t read anything competitive.

decor8: Do you see yourself writing other titles in the future, anything in the works?

pamela: Yes, I’ve actually just pitched a book to Chronicle about the fine art of complaining.

decor8: Where do you see your business in 5 years?

pamela: I’d like to be doing a lot more design for hire. I’d like a Pamela Barsky department in Target.


decor8: Speaking of stores, how do you market your products to stores/customers?

pamela: After ten or twelve years, I have enough of a following people look for me at trade shows, online, or call looking for a new catalogue. That said, I mostly depend on the New York and Atlanta gift show and mailings. In the past year, my website has been a huge asset. I spend a lot of time courting the press.

decor8: What are three subjects you’d like to learn more about?

pamela: Well, I sure would like to understand what makes men tick. I wish I could draw. And I’d like to play around with math.

decor8: Are you doing your dream job? If so, what would you like to add? If not, what would you rather be doing?

pamela: I don’t know. I fantasize about being a secret shopper for hotel chains. I’d like to buy houses only to fix them up and sell them. I’d like to be a tour guide. I’d like to do more writing for pay. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, but nothing is perfect and there are lots of cool jobs out there.

decor8: To wrap things up, what are you top ten indulgences?

pamela: 1. Expensive shoes 2. An unlimited pass at the yoga studio 3. I like nice hotel rooms. 3. Boysenberries at the farmer’s market 4. I don’t know how to cook, so I eat out a lot. 5. A Duxiana bed 6. Long, leisurely conversations with out of town friends 7. Oatmeal with brown sugar and yellow raisins every morning 8. I love television and just got a wall mounted flat screen hdtv 9. Buying groceries only at the health food store 10. Jelly beans.

Thank you Pamela for sharing your world with decor8 readers… We look forward to seeing you more and more in the months to come – and hopefully someday, at Target, too! Best of success to you!

Psst: Pam also maintains a very candid blog.

Pamela Barsky’s products are offered on her website as well as these fine online stores:

Elsewares
See Jane Work

The fabulous Kelly at Buss Buss also interviewed Pamela, which I just discovered about 2 seconds ago. Kelly also has a great photo of Pamela and asked her a ton of great questions, so don’t miss it! Click here to check it out.

Have any additional questions or comments for Pamela? Post them in the comments section below.

(images from pamela barsky)

Posted in designers, interviews on July 19, 2006

Meet Interior Designer Vanessa De Vargas, Turquoise

I think it’s important for a blog showcasing design to actually interview interior designers; give some credit to those that create all these beautiful spaces! As an interior design consultant myself, my goal is to demystify design by reaching out to some of those in the design community that I respect so that you can meet them and learn more about the ‘day in the life of’… Starting with Vanessa De Vargas the talent behind Turquoise in LA. If the name sounds familiar, you may know her as the design diva who writes for Apartment Therapy LA.


decor8: Hi Vanessa! We’re so happy you’re here to talk interior design with us today. Can you please tell us about Turquoise – both your high-end vintage line as well as your design practice?
turquoise: Turquoise is my interior/furniture design firm, located in Venice Beach, CA. I design residential projects – which would probably be best described as an eclectic mix of vintage and modern. I would love to have an opportunity to cross over into commercial spaces and design a retail store or a restaurant. My furniture line is a mix of vintage items from all eras that I revamp by re-lacquering or reupholstering to make new again. I sell my vintage furniture line to other interior designers and private parties. I also consign my line with Woodson and Rummerfield?s, Heather O? Donovan, and Rumba ? in LA. I am always on the hunt for the next great vintage piece to revamp. I am constantly challenged by my interior design clients and feel very lucky to have the balance of my design work and my furniture design projects. Everyday is different and I never know what the day may bring.

decor8: How did you select the name, Turquoise?
turquoise: I selected Turquoise as my company name since my father?s side of the family is from New Mexico. I have spent many holidays and vacations in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and also lived there for a few years. I can?t tell you how many pieces of turquoise jewelry I have owned throughout my life. I also chose the name because it truly is my favorite color!

decor8: Tell us about your background, training, work experience, etc.
turquoise: I studied at UCLA?s interior design extension program. While I was in school I landed a job working for Shannon Shapiro Design/Moth Design where I learned about interior design and lamp manufacturing. I then spent an additional year assisting several other interior designers to which I then opened my own firm.

decor8: You mentioned earlier that you’re in Venice Beach, what do you dislike/like about it there?
turquoise: Yes, I am based in Venice Beach, which is probably not the best place to live if you are a designer. Most of the showrooms and stores are at least 30-40 minutes away and my vendors are at least 45 minutes away and with all the traffic in LA it really doesn?t help! But for me it works ? it?s nice to leave the city and go to my beach cottage where it?s quiet and peaceful, away from the busy city. When I come home to work, it really doesn?t feel like work.

decor8: I know you also contribute regularly to AT LA. How did you land that gig and what are some things that you enjoy about it?
turquoise: I guess I landed the gig from always contributing comments to the blog. I was also suggesting stores and places for other readers to visit. Maxwell and Alec both noticed my participation on the blog and one day I got an email from Maxwell asking me to join the team. Because of my knowledge of stores and designers we came up with some blog topics that included interviews of designers, fun and innovative stores that the readers would enjoy learning about, and posting my design projects.

decor8: Have you ever considered having your own blog? Do you read blogs other than AT? What value do you personally see in design blogs?
turquoise: I would love to have my own blog, I just wish I had the time to always update one. I read your blog decor8, of course AT-LA and NY, shelterrific, happy mundane, and design sponge. I find SO much information that I learn about when I read other blogs. There is one person I cannot think of her name for the life of me that has this great blog with all these fab interior design photos of Jonathan Adler. I always find some design inspiration when I look on other blogs.

decor8: I’ve not heard of the Jonathan Adler blog… (Readers, do you know what Vanessa is referring to?) When did you know that you wanted to be a designer?
turquoise: I guess when I was a little girl, I would constantly change my room around moving furniture, painting items different colors, taking things from other rooms and putting them in my room. But when I actually decided to become a designer is when I left my high paying entertainment job a few years ago. I worked as a commercial/music video agent for cameraman, production designers, and costume designers. I was always interested in design and it just so happened it was the right time for me to change profession.

decor8: Do you have a particular design style that you prefer, if so, what is it and why do you prefer it?
turquoise: Mixing all eras together. I don?t like matchie matchie rooms. Spaces must have a life of their own and must represent the client. I can suggest colors and furniture, but at the end of the day I don?t live in these rooms and must reflect the owner.

decor8: How do promote your business?
turquoise: Constantly meeting new people, attending openings and trade shows, emailing and keeping in touch with previous clients and designers.

decor8: Tell us about your best client experience ever?
turquoise: Knock on wood, all my client experiences have been the best. I am always learning and being challenged everyday. If I had clients that said everything to what I showed them I would be a very bored designer my job would be easy. I have always said that each interior design project is a collaborative experience between designer and client.

decor8: Where do you find inspiration? Other designers? Places? Magazines?
turquoise: Old vintage interior design books and magazines.

decor8: Do you attend conferences? shows? Which ones?
turquoise: I try to attend any store openings or showroom parties. I also attend West week at the Pacific Design Center here in LA and recently I went to the Las Vegas Market show, Caboom and just attended the LA Modernism Show.

decor8: Who are some of your favorite designers?
turquoise: Betsy Burnham, Ron Woodson and Jamie Rummerfield, Molly Luetkemeyer, Kelly Wearstler, Jill Dupre and Michael Berman.

decor8: Oh, I love Betsy Bernham – her rooms are heaven! Michael Berman has some beautiful furniture, too. I think his four poster beds are so neat. I can tell you have exceptional taste… As a designer, what do you first notice when you step into someones home?
turquoise: Paint colors and furniture layout.

decor8: I often notice layout first. When I was in the corporate world, my colleagues called me “Space Queen” because I was so fixed on layout – a good floor plan is everything. You mentioned paint also, what is your favorite paint color and why (let me guess, it’s turquoise?).
turquoise: My favorite paint color is actually light grey- it works with most interiors and I am so tired of brown, beiges and taupe ? grey is the new brown.

decor8: Yes, grey is lovely – but many have a difficult time selecting the correct grey for thier space. Most of my clients seem to have an easier time selecting a good beige vs. a good grey! Okay, so we’ve come to the part of our interview where I’ll just ramble off random questions and you play along… First up, if money were no obstacle, where would live and why?
turquoise: I would live in Malibu in a huge modern home, since I love the ocean.

decor8: Tell us the best way to spend a Saturday in Venice Beach.
turquoise: If the weather is beautiful and clear I will take my bike down to the beach and read design magazines. Maybe hit some hardware stores, go vintage shopping, maybe check out a flea market or some local yard sales.

decor8: And finally, since Elle Decor does it, I’ll ask you, what are ten things that you can’t live without?
turquoise: bonne bell mocha mouse lip gloss, dance music, my Mac laptop, sopapillias, hot New Mexican green chili, cheap sunglasses, antibacterial hand cleaners, sushi, Gruet Champagne and my Volvo wagon.

Vanessa, thank you for stopping by decor8 and saying hello – we really appreciated having an Interior Designer stopping by to talk to us today. Best wishes in your career, and the next time I’m out in LA, I’m stopping by your store to say hello!

(images from vanessa de vargas.)

Posted in designers, interviews on May 08, 2006

Designer Kahi Lee

Kahi Lee is an Interior Design Goddess to watch. An expert in design + fashion, this girl has a bio that’s tough to beat. Her decorating weapon of choice is wallpaper.
Her style icons are Jackie O. (mine too!) and Gwen Stefani. She loves chocolate covered pretzels, raw oysters, gardenias, and designer shoes. Favorite book? Are you there God? It’s me Margaret! I recently spotted her on My Celebrity Home (Style Network) and FreeStyle (HGTV) and I’m hooked, she’s just great. Spunky, smart, talented, innovative, knowledgeable, fashionable, beautiful… I know I’m gushing here, but could she be more of a package deal?

Are you also a fan?

(images from kahi lee)

Posted in designers on April 27, 2006

Books:

Some of my books...

Further editions available: Decorate published by Murdoch Books for AU/NZ, Decorar BR, Alt om indretning DK, Inspirace pro váš byt CZ, Dekorácie SK, La décoration FR, Lust auf Wohnen DE, Sisusta tyylillä FI and Sztuka aranżacji wnętrz PL.

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